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April 27, 2005

Centrism

Julia on political centrists:

This is like saying that you drive mid-size cars because you own a Civic and a Hummer. This is like saying that Michigan has a temperate climate because it's 95 in the summer and -10 in the winter. It's like saying you're a moderate drinker because you drink nothing Monday through Thursday and then have 15 pints on a Friday night.

That's about right. Centrism has become a synonym for "maverick". Proving yourself a centrist isn't about moderating your opinions so much as decisively proving you don't hold the same ones as your party. Lieberman, as Julie notes, is hardly in the middle on issues: he's generally quite liberal, or quite hawkish. Which, in the current calculus, makes him some sort of a weird centrist. But the middle should mean the center of the map, not all over it. The political press, we know, is always jonesing for politicians ready to buck their parties, and that's fine. But let's pick a new word for them, one that doesn't contravene the meaning of a perfectly good adjective.

April 27, 2005 | Permalink

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» Not a Centrist from CommonSenseDesk
Julie Saltman does not think that Lieberman is a centrist. [Read More]

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Comments

Well, we have wingers, so let's also have swingers.

Posted by: George | Apr 27, 2005 1:13:29 PM

You said, "[b]ut let's pick a new word for them, one that doesn't contravene the meaning of a perfectly good adjective."

Apostate?

Posted by: pansauce | Apr 27, 2005 1:17:05 PM

Centrism has become a synonym for "maverick".

But, that is a result of the current party alignment, not because the press equates centrism with maverick-ness. In past times "mavericks" have been the extremists in their party.

In the original Gingrich Revolution -- the late 1970s and realy 1980s, Gingrich was the maverick. He went to the House minority leadership and asked "who is in charge of the long term project to take control of the House"? And got the answer "there isn't one, and we're not about to start one". So he went out and beat the system until, well, he became the system. The House leadership at the time was far more moderate and interested in deal brokering with the seemingly permanent Democratic majority.

Were Russ Feingold to run for President -- or Paul Wellstone if he were alive (something I think he either would have done in 2004 or 2008) -- they would be considered mavericks, despite being two of the most liberal senators out there. Feingold voted against Kosovo air strikes, against Bosnia peacekeeping, and against the Patriot act (he did vote for welfare reform, for what that's worth). Yet he'd clearly be the maverick candidate in the 2008 race unless Bob Kerrey comes back from the dead.

Remember, Goldwater was the maverick in 1964, bucking the GOP establishment. In 1984 there were two maverick democratic candidates: the pseudo-centrist New Democrat Gary Hart and left-liberal gadfly Jesse Jackson.

Posted by: Electoral Math | Apr 27, 2005 1:53:03 PM

McCain's another faux centrist. The most recent voting record score I saw put him at 4th most conservative Senator.

But I somewhat quarrel with the notion of a "center" as between a "left" Democratic Party and a "right" Republican Pary. Issue-by-issue, the faultlines in terms of either voters' attitudes or interest groups don't actually map to a single coherent left-right universe, and with the advent of the unique mix of "big government religious conservatism" they don't map to the parties either.

But that's a separate discussion.

Posted by: nadezhda | Apr 27, 2005 7:57:09 PM

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Posted by: peter.w | Sep 15, 2007 7:18:54 AM

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